That’s been the astounding loss to Palm Beach County over the past decade because so many people living here went uncounted in the last U.S. census.
Some 94,000 people — 7.2 percent of the county’s actual population — failed to make it onto census-takers’ rolls in 2010, according to no less an authority than the U.S. Census Bureau itself.
The omissions included immigrants, here legally and not, whose struggles with English or aversion to authorities might have kept them away. And there were others who were hard to reach or hesitant to respond: transients, elderly folks, renters, snowbirds, college students living on campuses.
Bottom line: Palm Beach County had the 16th-worst undercount of any county in the nation. Over the course of the 2010s, that failure has meant that $1.5 billion in federal money which should have come here — money that belongs to us — went to other parts of the nation instead.
Sadly, we had company; Florida as a whole had the third-worst census participation of all the states in 2010. Our state lost out on about $20 billion in federal funding because the census omitted an estimated 1.4 million residents — about 7.5 percent of the actual population.
And yet, just as sad, the state of Florida is mounting no official effort to ensure residents’ participation in the 2020 census. Florida is among 24 states that have nothing on U.S. census-related efforts and one of only five states that have failed to form a committee to raise awareness about the count, according to The New York Times.
What’s more, efforts to establish statewide census committees have thus far died in the Republican controlled Florida Legislature, with no public input from the governor.
This is money we should have for among other vital needs, infrastructure, Medicaid, school lunches, child care, Head Start to help poor children get ready for elementary school, Pell Grants to help students afford college and agricultural loans.
These are federal dollars we gave up because residents were undercounted. Federal dollars make up one-third of Florida’s total governmental revenue.
The undercount likely even have siphoned the state’s political strength, since membership in the U.S. House of Representatives is apportioned by the census count, in which the Census Bureau, in accord with the U.S. Constitution, attempts to count the nation’s entire population as it stands on a single day — every 10 years.
The next day is coming up fast: April 1, 2020.
And this time, in the state’s absence, a group of philanthropies is banding together to make sure that the count in Florida is as full and accurate as possible.
Why? Because when federal money for social services goes away, that doesn’t mean that problems like hunger, illness and mental distress disappear. It means that help, if it comes, must come from someplace else. In many cases, private charities must strain to carry the load.
Organizations like the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties have figured out that, rather than spending the next 10 years coping in an underfunded environment for social services, it’s better to make sure every resident is counted in the census so that the state, and counties and municipalities get all the federal money due them.
The seven philanthropies that have banded together under the name Florida Counts Census 2020 aim to raise $2 million to secure a complete count in this state. Their plan is to leverage the trusted connections they have in underserved communities — neighborhood pastors, Head Start teachers, after-school program leaders — to encourage people to drop their apprehensions and take part in the census.
Their efforts are laudable. But these community groups shouldn’t have to shoulder all of this responsibility. Ideally, they would supplement our state government’s efforts to make sure that all Florida residents participate in the census.
It’s still not too late for DeSantis stop foot-dragging and form a statewide committee to raise awareness about the count. We strongly encourage him to do so as soon as possible.
Florida is one of the fastest-growing states in the union. If we continue to fall short in the census count, while at the same time adding new residents, the federal funding gap will just get larger.